God and Evil

By Michael Trevino

Throughout Scripture, we have affirmations of God’s Sovereignty over all things. God’s word declares his authority and ultimate control over everything in the created universe, including the weather, the placement of the stars, the words of men, the actions of men, the life and death of men, and the salvation and condemnation of men. He is revealed to be a God who does whatever he pleases and obtains whatever he desires.  It is in these truths that the children of God rejoice in a faithful creator who is greater than any occurrence and has the power to control any event. What a comfort it is for us as God’s elect to know that there is nothing greater than The Lord, no one able to thwart his will, and no force existing that he doesn’t exhibit exhaustive control over. However, with this revelation of his absolute oversight upon all his creation, a vital question needs to be considered: If God is sovereign over everything; does his relationship to evil make him the author of sin? This paper will demonstrate God’s total authority over evil and how, by his determining work, he authors all things that come to pass, including sin; an impeccable operation that can only be administered by him, independent of man’s help or approval.

When approaching this doctrine, we must first define the Sovereignty of God. What exactly is Sovereignty and how much of it does God have? Arthur Pink establishes this position eloquently: “To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.” [1]  The Lord of Hosts establishes himself as the only supreme ruler who is active in all the events of his world.

With this establishment of God’s supremacy, the problem of evil is evident. There is much controversy surrounding the notion that God has any involvement with the evil in the world, let alone the assumption that evil is something that he unanimously causes. Nonetheless, it is imperative that we examine the scriptures to gain insight as to what God affirms about this matter and not allow any unpopular opinion to forbid our search for the truth.

As previously questioned, does God author the evil in the world? It should be noted that scripture does not focus on whether God is the author of evil, or sin, but it instead affirms his sovereignty. Considering that foundation, we may be reluctant in proclaiming God as the author of sin, but we must remember that there is nothing in the Bible that states this is an immoral position for God to hold. Many people have difficulties with the reality of evil, not because it poses any intelligent disputes against Christianity, but rather they are they vanquished by the feelings that the theme generates, and these emotions incapacitate the slightest level of discernment and logic that they typically exhibit (Cheung, 56)[2]. It is our duty as believers to humbly submit to God’s word and not devise foolish questions or objections to what is plainly stated in scripture.

In the Old Testament, God conveys that he is the one who creates evil, to wit: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things (Is. 45:7). Lamentations 3:38 may also be considered, as we read, “Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?” In light of these verses, defining what kind of evil God produces is integral to answering the question posed. There are two kinds of evil, a physical evil known as calamity through natural disasters, and moral evil, which can be defined as sin, or evil carried out by human beings in the form of greed, conceit, cruelty, rage, contempt, and numerous devices that human beings continuously inflict upon themselves and the rest of God’s creatures (Whitney, 4)[3].

Since God is the Creator and has dominion over all things, it stands to reason that he ordains evil, utilizes evil, and achieves noble practices through evil, but he never commits evil (Ware, 212)[4]. It is here that defining terms such as “author of sin” is dire, as a specific description is required so as to not confuse or misdirect anyone desiring to inquire about such a weighty matter. God, being supreme and wise in his own council, has ordained all things that come to pass and that incorporates evil. This denies the position that God only foresees evil, for if God foresees what he determined, then logically, he decreed that evil exist. Furthermore, the Bible flatly states that God declares the end from the beginning and works all things according his own wise council (Is. 49:9-10, Eph. 1:11).

If God foresees something that he did not determine, then that would insinuate that there is an independent force apart from God, outside of his control. Nothing is independent or free from his immutable will and nothing acts contrary to what God has predetermined before the foundation of the world. Stating that God predestines everything but does not have anything to do with evil is nothing more than double speak and for God to ordain one thing but desire another is contradictory. In this context of God ordaining all that comes to pass, God is in essence the author of those things ordained and therefore the author of any and all evil that has or will exist. Furthermore, it is not sufficient to assert that God “permits” or “allows” that evil exists, for how could evil exist if God didn’t will that is exist by causation? God causes all things, as he is the sovereign of the universe and has an active hand in every affair in his world. In order to understand by what measures God causes all things, the concept of immediate cause and ultimate, or remote cause must be grasped.

It is well within our depraved nature to deter responsibility for offenses. In an attempt to acquit himself for misconduct, an individual may pin blame to the one who tempted him, or to mitigating prospects, or to something more isolated. An example of this would be in the Garden of Eden where Adam attempted to place blame on God for his own act of rebellion, but it was him who was condemned. An additional example is found in David’s confession, as David did not grumble, I have transgressed so greatly, but alas, I was born in sin and could not restrain my natural tendencies: so do not pin a charge of wrongdoing on me. Quite the opposite, in fact, as David proclaimed, I have sinned a great sin and what makes it all the worse is that I was born that way; I could not help it, for I myself am evil. David, with a penitent heart, placed the blame, not on his mother, nor on Adam, nor on God, even though all three of these things are legitimate factors in the string of causation culminating to his crime against God. David placed the blame on himself-as he was the immediate source of his own action. With the indication that there is no force or will outside of God’s, the doctrine of creation does not refuse but instead enacts secondary causes.”[5].

In the first verse of Genesis, God is the one who creates, and by his inventions, he is the ultimate cause of everything, as all things are created through him and for him (Col. 1:16). When the discussion arrives to God’s being the author of sin, one must comprehend the question to be, Is God the actual root of sin? Or more clearly, does God commit sin? This is an inquiry regarding God’s holiness, though now it should be obvious that God no more performs sin than he is typing these words. Albeit, the treachery of Christ as predestined from eternity as a vehicle of implementing the atonement, it was Judas, not God, who betrayed The Lord Jesus Christ. The immediate causes in God’s plan are not exterminated by divine casualty, but rather they are established. It is with the acts of these immediate causes, whether they be upright or immoral, are to be attributed to the agents, and it is these agents who are culpable [6](Clark, 53).

There are of course those who are in opposition to the sovereignty of God and endeavor to rob him of his glory. One objector to this doctrine is Open Theist John Sanders, who advocates that God never intended that evil exists in his creation, but it does, and he is awfully sorry that it abounds. In the book The God Who Risks, Sanders explains, “This was a risk God took in establishing these structures. Natural evil poses a risk for God in that it may hamper love as well as human trust in the divine-human relationship. In the face of both moral and natural evil Jesus stands fundamentally opposed to them and seeks to overcome them by suffering and resurrection. Moreover, God continues to work to redeem the evil situation. God is not yet finished, and as long as God is working, there is hope that the future will be different from what we presently experience”[7].

With this objection, Sanders submits that God was never in control of any predicament but he is working on a plan B to fix what was ruined. He continues that if God did not consecrate evil upon people, then this ideology would in fact relieve anxiety to those who have gone through hardships and were informed that God uses this evil for an overall greater good[8] (Sanders, 276). Sanders contends that for God to be the remote cause of moral evil, every specific act of moral evil arises from God’s specific intention of that individual and it cannot be claimed that God is axiomatically opposed to sin, as our sin makes God “happy” because he can accomplish a greater good that would have not otherwise been possible (Sanders, 266).[9]

With regards to the latter argument, for Sanders to assert that if sin occurs from God remotely causing it then it must be because it makes him “happy”, is a stupid caricature of the sovereignty of God. The Lord doesn’t predestine evil because it makes him happy, rather he is glorified to exact his vengeance and wrath upon those who committed evil while alive on his earth. This matter is in put to rest by the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 9: In the Scriptures God says to Pharaoh: “I made you king so that you could do this for me. I wanted to show my power through you. I wanted my name to be announced throughout the world.” So God shows mercy to those he wants to show mercy to and makes stubborn those he wants to make stubborn. So one of you will ask me, “If God controls what we do, why does he blame us for our sins?” Don’t ask that. You are only human and have no right to question God. A clay jar does not question the one who made it. It does not say, “Why did you make me like this?”  The one who makes the jar can make anything he wants. He uses the same clay to make different things. He might make one thing for special purposes and another for daily use. It is the same way with what God has done. He wanted to show his anger and to let people see his power. But he patiently endured those he was angry with—people who were ready to be destroyed. He waited with patience so that he could make known the riches of his glory to the people he has chosen to receive his mercy. God has already prepared them to share his glory.” This is the Bible’s answer; it admonishes the protester and responds to the protest at the same time! The rebuttal does not address whether God is the author of sin or not, instead it illustrates God as the chief ruler who can do whatever he pleases, whenever he pleases. Instead of backpedaling or ducking, this response reaches out and whacks the objector in the face (Cheung, 8)[10].

One does not have to conclusively know or comprehend why God determines evil or suffering in this world, one just needs to know God (Ware, 213)![11] God is in total control and God is infinitely good. Upon this reality we find hope, relief, and peace (Ware, 207)[12]. God’s dominion over Satan, demons, death, and all other evil beings and powers is a bedrock of hope in which his children find rest. With this truth of his power and goodness we as his sheep shall “be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6) and stand firm with hope in him who “works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).”

This is the opposite of what John Sanders vomits in his publication where he insists that it is a relief for one to know that God isn’t ushering evil in their lives, but is it more comforting to assume that maybe Satan is in control, or his minions, or wretched men, or natural forces of the Earth are in control, but God is not in control? How much of God’s creation stand outside of his control and will? How do I know that at any given time a horrific accident may happen while God casually sits back with his arms crossed, unable to stop it? Perhaps my loved ones are under the onslaught of a demonic barrage and God simply watches as Satan uncontrollably devours my family with no recourse? Am I to feel comfort in hearing that “God is close to you, and he cares so much about the tragedy in your life” when I inquire where he is? Or is it just better in knowing that he is witnessing all the events unfold (while being caught off guard by just about everything) and that his feeling of my pain is a token of his love? What it boils down to is this: would you rather have your life being in the control and mercy of a loving, caring, omnipotent God who works all things that come to pass? Or would you prefer to relinquish God of his status and live your life at the mercy of fallen angels, natural forces, wretched man’s free will choices, and Satan himself, most of which would be random and meaningless, while God is incapable of stopping the chaos (Ware, pg 212-213)[13]?

For God to be ignorant of the future and not have a hand in bringing about all that comes to pass, but intended for good to flourish, displays that God was clearly deluded, especially when one contemplates the substantial abuse of freedom that has transpired throughout human history. Why couldn’t God immediately analyze that things are not going to end well, and so put an end to his experiment (Ware, pg 209)?[14] It is irresponsible for God to have created a world in which he delegates unrestricted freedom to his creation and hopes for the best, as if he is rolling the cosmic dice in aspiration to getting his way. Sanders basically gives God the title of Creator but offers him nothing more than a front row seat to watch history unfold.

If God did not create evil, are we to conclude that evil created itself? Or are we to believe in Sanders’ finite god who is at odds with the Devil and is trying to impose his will against Satan’s? If so, then is dualism the proper response to this dilemma? Contending that God cannot do anything about evil is not a solution to the issue of moral evil.

The next resolution offered is a favored criticism of God’s preeminence in the world, known as the free-will defense. From ancient pagan history, through the Middle Ages, and on down into this contemporary time period, free will has unquestionably been the most prominent solution given for the problem of evil. God is omnipotent, many people will admit, but he has embraced a hands-off protocol and allows men to act apart from his divine authority. We freely desire, that is we desire evil of our own free wills; God does cause or force us do so; therefore, we alone are guilty for the evil we carry out, and not God (Clark, 12).[15]

The free-will myth is a doctrine to get God off the hook, that is to say, God couldn’t possibly ordain evil in the world, for God cannot interfere with the free-will decisions of men; all the wickedness in the world falls on man’s shoulders. Patrons of this doctrine attest that if humans were not free, then they could not be rendered culpable for their thinking, speech, or deeds. They wouldn’t be subject to any condemnation or reward and would be inadequate of having morality or degeneracy (Wesley, 6:227)[16] and maintain that even though God has foreknowledge of men’s choices, he is not the medium that purposes or renders them definite (Cotrell, 111)[17]. This philosophy indeed attempts to absolve God of responsibility, but does it? Imagine a lifeguard posted on a deadly beach. In the surf a young boy is being pulled out to sea by a powerful undercurrent. The boy can’t swim and will plunge underwater without any help. However, the lifeguard merely lies back in his high chair and observes him drowning. He may yell some instructions to the lad and urges him to employ his free will. Besides, it as a result of his own free will that the boy went into the ocean. The lifeguard didn’t force him in nor impede him from making his own choice. The guard simply permitted him to swim and permitted him to drown to his death. Now, would an advocate of free will gather that the lifeguard dodges responsibility? This analogy displays that bare permission of evil as opposed to decisive influence does not alleviate the lifeguard from responsibility. Contrary to the boy who remains independent of the lifeguard, the reality is that God created the boy, the ocean, and the lifeguard. Would not God appear to be much worse than the lifeguard, who was expected to get in the ocean and save the child by his own free will, since he was simply a creation of God’s in the first place? Certainly an all-powerful God could have made the boy a more adequate swimmer or made the ocean less dangerous, or at the very least, could have rescued him from drowning. But these are not the circumstances of the world God created, as there is nothing that can operate independent of the Sovereign Lord[18] for “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) (Clark, pg 17-18). Given this illustration, it is illogical for one to maintain God’s innocence if in fact God foreknew everything to happen before creation, including all the evil that will proliferate, yet creates these moral agents anyway, who will surely carry out deeds he knew they would commit.

“But”, the objector continues, “where have they found, or where can they find, a principle more clear, more simple, or more unquestionable on which to ground their arguments? Where, in the whole armory of logic, can be found a principle more unquestionable than this, that no man can be to praise or to blame for that which is produced in him, by causes over which he had no control?”[19] (Bledsoe 341). Undoubtedly, the criticism presented is with God holding man accountable for something he was predestined for but had no control over. Not only is this matter addressed and settled in Romans 9:19-20, but once the accurate interpretation of that scripture is rejected, an alternate approach must be considered. The fact is that if responsibility assumes independence, then our unadulterated responsibility to God must surmise complete freedom from God. Nonetheless, if our freedom from God is complete, why are we accountable to him at all? Indeed, accountability does not presuppose freedom, but it presupposes the opposite of freedom. We are accountable to God because we are not free from God (Cheung, 98)[20]. Those agitators understand that they will one day be judged by God because they are responsible to him, and yet it is because they are not free from God that they will be judged by him.

It is indisputable that God places himself on the hook and is content to remain there. It would be foolish and unbiblical to remove him from that positon, though he is not directly responsible or sinful. God is not sinful because whatever Go does is perfect and just. It is good and just because he does it. Goodness, justice, and perfection are all what God does. Since God decreed that Judas would betray Christ this purposeful act is good and not sinful. There is of course a scriptural basis for this argument, in which examining them now is crucial to drive the point home. I’ve already demonstrated that God ordained the worst sin that has ever been committed, as per Acts 2:23 and 4:28, but the sin of Joseph’s brothers from Genesis is an aspect of God’s sovereignty that cannot be overlooked. During the exposition of chapter 50, Joseph’s brothers bow down before him in humility, exclaiming that they are his servants. But Joseph, with a merciful heart, declares, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Gen 50:19-21). Notice God had meant that evil impact Joseph’s life but he used it to providentially guide him for his own good. This not only confirms that God’s plans are meaningful, but this text harmonizes with Romans 8:28, that God will cause good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Next, we discover the spirit God sent in the book of I Kings chapter 22, to wit:

“But Micaiah said, “Listen to this message from the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne. All of heaven’s army was standing around him, some on his left side and some on his right side.  The Lord said, ‘Which of you will go fool Ahab into attacking the Arameans at Ramoth Gilead so that he will be killed?’ The angels discussed many different plans. Then a spirit went and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will fool him!’ The Lord asked, ‘How will you do it?’22 The spirit answered, ‘I will go to Ahab’s prophets and cause them to tell lies.’ So the Lord said, ‘Yes, that will fool Ahab. Go out and do that.’“So that is what has happened here. The Lord made your prophets lie to you. The Lord himself decided to bring this disaster to you.”Then the prophet Zedekiah went to Micaiah and hit him on the face. Zedekiah said, “How is it that the Spirit of the Lord left me to speak through you?”

Scripture directly affirms that God caused sin by sending a spirit that caused men to lie. It is by definition that God cannot be found a sinner because it is impossible for him to sin. There is no law above God which prohibits him from ordaining evil. The law that he enforces on his creation do not apply to him. Humans are responsible because God requires them to give an account and because he is the highest power, he can punish them for transgression. God cannot be held morally accountable simply because there is no one above God in which to hold him accountable or to condemn him. There is no law for God to disobey. Scripture affirms both absolute predestination in all things and man’s absolute responsibility in all things. It is man who is the author of his sin, he alone is culpable, he has no free will, and God is the only sovereign (Clark, 53-55)[21].

 

[1] Pink, Arthur. “God’s Sovereignty Defined.” In The Sovereignty of God, 9. Pensacola, FL: Chapel Library, 1993.

[2] Cheung, Vincent. “The Author of Sin.” http://vincentcheung.com. 2014. Accessed November 22, 2015. http://www.vincentcheung.com/books/The Author of Sin (2014).pdf.

[3] Whitney, Barry L. What Are They Saying about God and Evil? New York: Paulist Press, 1989.

[4] Ware, 212.

[5] Clark, Gordon Haddon. God and Evil: The Problem Solved. Hobbs, N.M.: Trinity Foundation, 1996.

[6] Clark, 53.

[7] Sanders, John. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. 2nd Ed., Rev. ed. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2007.

[8] Sanders, 276.

[9] Sanders, 266

[10] Cheung, 8.

[11] Ware, Bruce A. God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2000.

[12] Ware, 207.

[13] Ware, 212-213.

[14] Ware, 209

[15] Clark, 12.

[16] Wesley, John. The Works of John Wesley. Vol. 6. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996. 227.

[17] Cottrell, Jack. The Grace of God and the Will of Man. Edited by Clark H. Pinnock. Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1995. 320.

[18] Clark, 17-18.

[19] Bledsoe, Albert. A Theodicy. New York, NY, 1854.

[20] Cheung, 98.

[21] Clark, 53-54.

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